On this web-site are over 100 PIDGEON family trees. Many originate in Devon, while others, originate in Norfolk, Shropshire, the Gloucestershire–Oxfordshire border, Hertfordshire, Ireland and France. Some of these families call themselves PIGEON or PIDGEN, but that may just be a quirk of historical spelling. The question is: are all, or only some (if so, which?) of these families related?
As family historians, this is what we are constantly striving to find out. We search for our ancestors in the written records of Civil Registration, censuses and Parish Records, trying to get back generation after generation as far as we can – and trying to link up with each other through a common ancestor. But these records go back in time only so far. Parish records were started in England 1538, but many have been lost, destroyed or not even written in the first place.
If two PIDGEON families are related it is because they have a common male ancestor, with male descendants carrying the PIDGEON name down along two distinct branches to the present time. But if this ancestor lived more than four or five hundred years ago, there is probably no written record either of his existence or of his link to our present families.
But there is another set of records which does go way back into the history of time which can be used in our quest. This is the one written in our genes; for our purpose the one passed from father to son, just like the family name. It is the Y-chromosome of our DNA.
Today, most of us know something about the human genome, its 23 pairs of chromosomes, each pair being more or less identical, except one. The X-Y pair of chromosomes are different from all the other pairs. In fact, they only exist as a pair in men. Women have an X-X pair, inheriting one from each parent. Men inherit an X from their mother and a Y from their father. It is whether a person inherits an X or a Y from their father which determines whether they become a woman or a man.
Chromosomes mutate. That is, a small change can sometimes occur, perhaps once every few generations. That is why, over four thousand million years, life has diversified to the extent it has. But over 10 or 20 generations these mutations are small and mostly inconsequential. In the Y-chromosome, mutations mostly occur in parts which have no function, and are thus known as junk DNA. But the differences which result can be used to distinguish men from different families. The Y-chromosomes of two brothers or first cousins should be identical, unless a mutation happened at their birth.
DNA testing for family history purposes is now offered on the internet by several laboratories. Tests are typically called Y-DNA and mtDNA tests. The mtDNA test (which analyses mitochondrial DNA, which exists only in a woman’s eggs, and can therefore be passed on only by a mother to her children) is used to trace maternal relationships, as distinct from the paternal relationships involved in Y-DNA studies.
In Y-DNA tests, certain parts of the Y-chromosome are analysed for specific “markers” or parts of the DNA sequence which are most useful in determining whether men are closely related or not. The greater the number of markers analysed, the greater the certainty of the conclusions drawn from the results. And the greater the cost of the tests. Tests can be performed for anything between 10 and 111 markers. For our purposes, experts recommend a minimum of about 25 markers be used.
To find out if two families are related, at least two men from each family should have Y-DNA tests carried out. The two men of each family should ideally be 3rd or 4th cousins. The results should show them to be closely related, otherwise one of them may be descended through a “non-paternity event” – a situation where, through adoption, name change or an illegitimacy, a man does not share the Y-DNA profile of his alleged father. In this case a third male semi-distant cousin should be tested in order to determine which of the original two men has the “Pidgeon” DNA, which can then be compared with the “Pidgeon” DNA of the other family.
In the absence of two distant male cousins, a single man may be tested. If a “match” with another Pidgeon family is made it can be concluded that they are related. But if a “match” is not made, it cannot be concluded that the families are not related, because that man may be in a section of the family affected by a non-paternity event.
Taking a sample of DNA for testing is very easy. A test kit is sent through the post. It contains instructions, a “scraper” for scraping the inside of the cheek (to collect the sample) and the means for returning it back to the lab for analysis. Reading the instructions and taking the sample from inside the mouth takes about five minutes.
There are several organisations which offer Y-DNA testing for genealogists – Family Tree DNA, DNA Heritage, Oxford Ancestors, Relative Genetics, to name but a few. The Texas-based Family Tree DNA offers 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker Y-DNA tests with discounts for tests in a surname project. They also host a large and growing database of results with free administration facilities for surname projects. For these reasons, and also because their test fees are competitive, tests for this project will be carried out by Family Tree DNA.
The cost of a test depends on how many markers are checked. 12 markers will rule out a relationship between two families when one does not exist, but gives little information about how closely related they are when one does. 25 markers will give some information on how different families are related and 37 markers will give more information. 67 markers give too much information for our purposes – they enable very close relationships to be identified, which we can already show on our family trees. For the purposes of this project I recommend a 37 marker test.
No. The Y-DNA tests proposed for family tree research test only certain parts of the male Y chromosome. These are parts of the DNA sequence known as junk-DNA. They have no apparent purpose and certainly give no medical information. Additionally, all the test laboratories have policies and procedures to ensure privacy of the results and security of the samples.
The scale of charges for Family Tree DNA “group” tests are normally as follows:
12 marker test
[Prices & exchange rate as of Feb 2017]
From time to time, special offers may reduce some of the charges or offer free additional tests, such as mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA - passed only from a mother to her children), or Family Finder (useful for finding close relationships of either gender up to about 6th cousins). As a member of the Guild of One Name Studies (GOONS) I can often obtain some test kits at a discount.
For the purpose of determining which Pidgeon family trees are related, I recommend a 37-marker test. Some 67-marker tests have been carried out, but the additional information gained, for the extra cost paid, is small.
The price of a 37-marker test may seem prohibitive to some people. Remember, however, that only one such test for a small family group is needed. If a number of brothers (and sisters) or first cousins share the cost for one of the brothers or cousins to take the test, the price becomes much more manageable.